WITA Webinar: Taking Meaningful Action to Address Barriers to Trade for Women




On March 26, 2021, WITA held the second event in the two- part mini series on Trade and Gender, and discussed the laws and regulations that constrain women’s participation in the labor force, and trade policies that can be adopted (or adapted) to support women engaging in international trade.  

As a global average, women have only 75% of the legal rights accorded to men, and 40% of countries have laws constraining women’s participation in the labor force. Gender-biased laws and procurement processes can prevent women from setting up a business or owning land and assets. Because of these and other obstacles, women participate less in international trade.

Speakers discussed the laws and regulations that constrain women’s participation in the labor force, and trade policies that can be adopted (or adapted) to support women engaging in international trade. 


Welcome: 9:00 AM (US/Eastern)

  • Kenneth I. Levinson, Executive Director, Washington International Trade Association

Remarks and Panelist Discussion: 9:05 AM

  • Elvis Francis, Director, Gap Foundation (P.A.C.E.) | Gap Inc.
  • Beth Roberts, Director, Center for Women’s Land Rights
  • Livia Shmavonian, Senior Advisor, Office of U.S. Senator Bob Casey
  • Mei Xu, CEO of Yes She May
  • Moderator: Nicole Bivens Collinson, President, International Trade and Government Relations, Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg P.A.

Followed by:

  • Q & A with Audience Moderated by Ken – Webinar attendees are encouraged to use the Q&A function on the Zoom app to submit their questions in real time.


Nicole Bivens Collinson leads the International Trade and Government relations practice of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A., and serves as managing principal of the Washington, D.C., office. She is also a member of the Firm’s Operating Committee and a commentator on trade matters on MSNBC and NPR.

Ms. Collinson has over 30 years of experience in government, public affairs and lobbying. She has drafted and guided the successful implementation of several pieces of key international trade legislation positively affecting the bottom line of many U.S. companies.  Clients have saved millions of dollars through the successful drafting, guidance and passage of legislation that reduces or eliminates duties — crafting creative measures to benefit clients such as blocking changes to the First Sale doctrine, Miscellaneous Tariff Bills, specific trade preference legislation, the Generalized System of Preferences, etc.  Such a track record demonstrates her ability to effectively move your agenda forward.

Ms. Collinson prepares countries, companies and associations for negotiations with the United States on free trade agreements, trade and investment agreements, labor disputes or other preferential programs. She is well-known for her ability to foster dialogue among a diverse set of stakeholders to resolve complex issues in trade policy making and implementation. She also works directly with U.S. multinational corporations and associations, as well as foreign companies, associations and government agencies, to clearly represent their positions in Washington. In doing so she analyzes and monitors cross-cutting trade issues, including labor, the environment, food safety, customs regulations, international development and others, and helps build strong coalitions to advocate for change.

Further, her work representing clients before Congress has earned her a well-respected position among politicians involved in international and business affairs. She is a well-known international trade authority in Washington, regularly called upon by members of Congress and the administration to help explain complex trade programs. Her decades of work with the House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees and the Senate Finance; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Foreign Relations; and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees has established deep and lasting relations with members of Congress and their staffs.

Prior to joining the Firm, Ms. Collinson served as assistant chief negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, responsible for the negotiation of bilateral agreements with Latin America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, the Sub-Continent and Africa. She also served as a country specialist in the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, where she was responsible for the preparation of negotiations on specific topics between the U.S. and Latin America, Eastern Europe, China and Hong Kong, as well as the administration of complex textile agreements.

Ms.  Collinson holds a master’s degree in international relations from The George Washington University and a triple bachelor’s degree in political science, European studies and French from Georgetown College. She also studied at the Université de Caen in France. She is current Chair of the Women in International Trade Charitable Trust, past president of Women in International Trade, an Advisory Board member of America’s TradePolicy.com, and a member of the Washington International Trade Association, the Washington International Trade Association Foundation, and the National Association of Manufacturers and Women in Government Relations. She serves on the board of trustees for Georgetown College and the board of directors for Imojeans, and she is the past Executive Director for the U.S. Hosiery Manufacturers Coalition, the U.S. Apparel Industry Coalition and the U.S. Sock Distributors Coalition.  She is conversant in both French and Spanish.

Elvis Francis has been with Gap Inc. for nearly 23 years and has held several roles within the Supply Chain and Global Sustainability teams in the company. Starting 2006 he has played a key role in the development of Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program. The program was designed to help female garment workers build the skills needed to advance beyond entry-level positions in factories and fulfill their potential through life skills education and technical training. The P.A.C.E. women’s program is now widely implemented across several other industries and communities.

In 2016, Gap Inc. expanded the P.A.C.E. programming to include adolescent girls in two age groups (11-13 and 14-17 years old) responding to the vision that P.A.C.E. graduating mothers had for their own daughters to possess better life skills, to be self-reliant, resilient and be able to control their own destiny. He has been instrumental in the sustained expansion of the P.A.C.E. workplace and community programs to 17 countries, enabling participation of more than 800,000 women and girls and is spearheading Gap Inc’s goal of empowering 1Million women and girls by year 2022.

Beth Roberts is the Director of the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights. She is an attorney and a policy and gender practitioner who works to strengthen rights and governance related to land and productive assets, via a gender-equal and socially inclusive (GESI) lens. She provides legal and policy analysis and recommendations to government decision-makers, traditional authorities, civil society partners, and international human rights and climate change bodies; conducts consultations and assessments with rural communities; and works to collaborate with, strengthen, and expand the network of practitioners focused at the intersection of gender, social inclusion, and natural resource justice worldwide.

During her time at Landesa, she has focused on advocacy at both global and national levels for greater policy coherence and stronger implementation related to gender and land in global agendas (the Sustainable Development Goals, human rights norms and standards, and climate change); on GESI support and guidance to Landesa’s country teams; and on organizational change initiatives and program and project management. She leads and works with a team of gender specialists across Landesa that seeks to ensure an integrated approach to Landesa’s gender equality and social inclusion work.

Beth holds three advanced degrees from the University of Washington: a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a focus on international development and nonprofit management, a Juris Doctor (JD), and an LL.M in Sustainable International Development Law. 

Livia Shmavonian is a Senior Advisor for Senator Bob Casey. She serves as lead advisor to Senator Casey on trade, economic and tax policy. Livia leads Senator Casey’s initiative to make women’s rights and the advancement of equal protection under law a core U.S. trade policy priority. She developed legislation to modernize criteria in the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to incorporate the rights of women (equal protection), human rights, non-discrimination, and violence and harassment. Livia previously managed the Democratic operations and agenda for the Senate Finance Trade Subcommittee, when Senator Casey served as Ranking Member. In that role she developed hearing topics on a bipartisan basis – most recently covering the emerging issue of censorship as a non-tariff barrier to trade, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and market access challenges in China. Livia’s economic policy work focuses on conditions that support and promote fair competition.

Livia is a graduate of the University of California, Davis and holds an MPP from Georgetown University.

Mei Xu is a Chinese American entrepreneur, author and founder and CEO of three global companies, Yes She May, BlissLiving Home® and Chesapeake Bay Candle®. Xu successfully negotiated the sale of Chesapeake Bay Candle to Newell Brands in 2017, a conglomerate with a $14 billion portfolio of consumer goods. Mei is now focused on helping women-owned consumer product companies grow and prosper with e-commerce platform, Yes She May. In March 2021, Mei will also launch her memoir, “Burn” that details her inspiring journey from coming to the United States as an immigrant to founding her own multi-million-dollar business.

Born in Hangzhou, China in 1967, Xu came of age during China’s transformation to a more open, market-oriented economy following Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. At age 12, Xu attended an elite language immersion boarding school designed to train diplomats for Foreign Service.

Xu continued her education at Beijing Foreign Studies University, but her goal of entering the diplomatic corps was never realized, due to the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. At great personal and financial hardship, Xu moved to the United States to begin graduate school at the University of Maryland College Park. After completing her master’s degree, Xu moved to New York to work for a high-tech, medical company that exported equipment to China. Unsatisfied with meager salary and position, Mei, and her then husband, David, turned to entrepreneurship. Capitalizing on the beginnings of Sino-American relations, Xu began experimenting with making candles in her basement using Campbell’s soup cans as molds. She then launched her consumer lifestyle brand. Her satiny and smooth fashion candles launched her brand to surprising success, and during her career she pivoted into the home fragrance and wellness industries.

After selling the company to Newell Brands, Mei created Yes She May (www.YesSheMay.com) to give women-owned brands a platform to reach a larger audience. It is the only online platform where consumers can shop for fashion, beauty, wellness, and home from women-owned businesses around the world. Each product is carefully curated so that no two brands compete in the same product space.

Xu’s entrepreneurial success story has been reported on by major news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Baltimore Sun, CNBC, MSNBC, among others.

Xu is an engaging story-teller whose personal journey to entrepreneurship inspires others. She is frequently invited to speak at universities, including the Wharton Business School, the Robert S. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, Tsinghua University in Beijing; by business groups, including Fortune’s Most Powerful Women and Horasis Global Visions Community; and government agencies, including the White House, where she was a panelist at the “Insourcing American Jobs” forum hosted by President Obama. Xu’s presentation topics and areas of expertise include women’s global economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, made in America/re-shoring initiatives, consumer lifestyle trends, the importance of a global education, and business development in China. Xu has also shared her story of entrepreneurial success with the host of the Ted Radio Hour and “How I Built This” with Guy Raz: NPR.

Xu’s business achievements have repeatedly been recognized by prominent organizations. She has been honored by, amongst others, Smart CEO with the Brava Award; Politico’s 2019 Woman of Impact Award; the World Trade Center Institute with the Maryland International Business Leadership Award; the Asian American Chamber of Commerce with the Business Leader of the Year Award; the Asian Women in Business Organization with the Entrepreneurial Leadership Award; the Washington Business Journal with the Women Who Mean Business Award; the Maryland Daily Record with the Most Admired CEO Award; and the University of Maryland with the Philip Merrill College of Journalism Distinguished Alumnus Award. Xu was also inducted into the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame and named twice by Inc. Magazine as CEO of one of America’s Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies.

Xu plays an active role in community, philanthropic and civic organizations, serving on boards of both for-profit and non-profit organizations, including: Sandy Spring BanCorp, Inc. (2012-2015); the University of Maryland, Baltimore Foundation; Meridian International; the World Affairs Council; the Halcyon Incubator Fund that invests in socially impactful ventures; and SoGal Ventures, the first female-led millennial venture capital fund investing in diverse entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Asia. Xu is a member of the Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only organization of the world’s most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate innovators; the Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows; and the U.S. China Business Council. She is a delegate to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit; a mentor with the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership; and a WE Connect Founding International Ambassador.

Xu and her family live in Bethesda, Maryland. All inquiries can be made to info@yesshemay.com.

Kenneth Levinson is the Executive Director of the Washington International Trade Association (WITA). WITA is Washington’s largest non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing a neutral forum in the U.S. capital for the open and robust discussion of international trade policy and economic issues. WITA has over 4,000 members, and more than 170 corporate sponsors and group memberships.

Previously, Ken served as Senior Director for Global Government Affairs for AstraZeneca. Prior to joining AstraZeneca, Ken served as Senior Vice President and COO at the Washington, DC consulting firm of Fontheim International. Ken started his career on the staff of U.S. Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, where he served as the Senator’s chief advisor for international trade, tax, foreign policy, and national security.

Ken received a Master’s degree in European History from New York University after doing his undergraduate work at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. Ken also spent a year studying at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Ken and his wife, the Reverend Donna Marsh, live in Bethesda, MD, with their two daughters.